When I first started this series, the New England Patriots always finished something like 12-4 or 13-3, which meant I only needed to put together a few Coping With Loss articles a year. It was never really that hard, to be honest, because ultimately we all knew that New England was a lock to win the division and would most likely be playing in the AFC Championship Game. I knew New England would come back down to earth eventually, but in classic Alec Shane fashion, I didn’t really think that far ahead.
The good news is that, with this 2021 squad, it really isn’t that hard to find positive takeaways following each L. I’m liking this team more and more with each passing week, and I can’t help but feel like by the end of the season, we’re going to be looking at two completely different teams.
Other than the usual suspects who are never happy no matter what, most folks I’ve spoken to are pretty pleased with how the Patriots looked on Sunday night. And here are five specific takeaways that I found particularly helpful.
Expected loss. I don’t think there are too many people who are surprised by the result of this one. This was an L before the schedule even came out. The Buccaneers are just a better team, from the top on down, and that the Patriots hung with them the way that they did is as close a moral victory as you’re going to get in a league with no moral victories.
Non-conference loss. As with the Saints, there’s nothing other than the L itself that’s going to matter come playoff time. At this early point, New England is a real longshot to win the AFC East, so it’s likely going to be a wild card spot if anything if they’re going to sneak into the postseason. And since the league operates almost entirely on in-conference tiebreakers to decide playoff seeding and who gets in, this really doesn’t make that much of a difference should New England find themselves right in the thick of the hunt.
Pats kept it close. I really thought that the Bucs were going to come in, coming off a loss, and just dominate from start to finish. But that most definitively did not happen, and New England had the lead in this game going into the fourth quarter. If not for a few penalties and a fumble, who knows what would have happened. Bill Belichick goes for it on 4th and 3, Pats likely win. Tons to be happy about with this game, and that New England legit had a chance to escape with a W against the defending champs and hands down most loaded team in the NFL is extremely impressive, particularly this early in the season.
Mac Freaking Jones. If I’m a homer, or if I’m just seeing what I want to see, or if I have my head buried in the sand, by all means please let me keep my head there, because I’m just so happy with what I’ve seen so far from this kid. He makes smart decisions, doesn’t make things complicated, takes a beating and gets right back up again, and just seems to understand what’s going on. He’s not threading it downfield 60 yards into double coverage and he’s not rifling bombs down the sideline, but does that really matter? His offensive line is a disaster right now and he hung with the best defensive unit in the NFL in a game where he literally got negative support from the running game. Every week he gets better, and that’s all I can ask for.
Matt Freaking Judon. Best player on the Patriots right now and it isn’t even close. Judon is an absolute force along the line and the current defensive anchor. This unit is playing pretty well overall, and they’re gelling more and more each week. Pretty soon Stephon Gilmore will be back, the young players will settle into their roles, and the D will play as a comprehensive unit - which is going to make Judon even more dangerous, in my opinion, Very much looking forward to seeing him develop.
And here’s a nice little bonus for you, just because I’m feeling generous.
The McRib is coming back at McDonald’s. The McRib is officially the Brett Favre of gelatinous meat cubes, and I’ve lost track of how many times they’ve retired and unretired this highly polarizing sandwich. I absolutely love the McRib personally, but it’s so vile to some people that I likely legit offended some of you by having the audacity to enjoy it - or even suggest that its return is a good thing. But those people would be wrong, as the McRib is delicious. Not only that, but it’s October, the best sports month of the year! So go grab yourself a slab of artificial carcinogenic mystery meat slathered in genetically modified onions and congealed BBQ sauce, turn on the tube, and watch the NFL, the MLB playoffs (go Sox!), the start of the NBA, and the return of the NHL. Life is good.